A collision involving a pedestrian on Jarvis Street, 2017
If there’s a “war on the car” in Toronto, the car is still winning.
On Tuesday, Gideon Fekre was acquitted of dangerous driving causing death, after he sped on Dundas Street East, crossing a bike lane, mounting a sidewalk, and struck a pedestrian, Kristy Hodgson, killing her and one of the two dogs she was walking at the time. Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that Fekre was distracted at the time, reaching for a water bottle that fell. But Fekre was acquitted because his driving was not deemed dangerous enough to be worthy of a “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle” conviction. As Ed Keenan — an excellent Toronto Star journalist who covered the trial — pointed out, the Supreme Court ruled the same way in a similar case.
Surveillance video showing Kristy Hodgson walking her dogs, before Gideon Fekre’s car crosses the bike lane and mounts sidewalk before hitting and killing her. (Toronto Star/YouTube)
In the second case, Deriba Wakene was acquitted of leaving the scene of a collision after a 2015 hit-and-run that killed Nelisa DaMota as she was crossing Bloor Street mid-block. The judge in that case explained that he believed Wakene when he said he did not hear, see or feel any impact, even though Wakene’s neighbours could see the damage to his car after he parked it in his driveway.
Both these judgments have made me angry. I hit a raccoon once while driving on a dark, rural highway, and heard and felt that impact, and I was shook up by that, even though there was no damage to the car, and there was’t much that I could do. If you hit a pedestrian, and don’t even know it, you shouldn’t be behind a wheel. If you’re distracted enough that you mount a curb and hit a pedestrian, there should be consequences to that.
These two trials were the result of criminal charges, rather than lesser Highway Traffic Act (HTA) charges more commonly laid by police. For most HTA offences, the accused does not need to appear in court, even after a pedestrian or cyclist is injured or killed, and penalties are light — often a small fine. A proper vulnerable road users law, like that proposed by NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, is necessary. Her bill sets out mandatory probation orders and community service for careless drivers that cause death or serious injury to a pedestrian or cyclist. DiNovo’s Bill 158 passed first reading at Queen’s Park, but may not be passed in time before the legislature breaks for the June 2018 general election.
Sadly, there’s not enough action on pedestrian and cyclists’ safety here in Toronto. The city’s Vision Zero plan is modest as best, as I recently discussed. Drivers are too often unaccountable for their careless dangerous operation of their potentially deadly machinery. Sidewalks and bike lanes are debated at length, while opportunist politicians and reactionary pundits complain about a “war on the car.” If there is such a war, the cars are still winning.